Broadcasters, others comment on Rule 30 proposal

Deborah Tate, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Michele Wojciechowski, spokesperson for the AOC, address the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in April about proposed changes to Rule 30, which governs the use of electronic devices in the courtroom. Amendments could mean that reporters will have to seek permission before using a smartphone to report live from the courtroom. Hosted by WPLN's Blake Farmer, president of the chapter.

Deborah Tate, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Michele Wojciechowski, spokesperson for the AOC, address the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in April about proposed changes to Rule 30, which governs media coverage in courtrooms. Moderated by WPLN’s Blake Farmer, chapter president.

 

Tennessee broadcasters and others have filed comments with the Tennessee Supreme Court on its proposed changes to Rule 30, which governs media coverage in courtrooms. The deadline to file comments is this Friday.

The court so far has posted on its website 11 comments on the Rule 30 proposal submitted from organizations and individuals, including:

Tennessee Association of Broadcasters

WMC Action 5 of Memphis

Thunderbolt Broadcasting and its radio stations in Martin, Union City, South Fulton and Dresden

WATE-TV in Knoxville

WKRN-TV News 2 in Nashville

Knoxville Bar Association

Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

Tennessee Bar Association

Knoxville News Sentinel

John Emison, citizen and investigative author

Ben Cunningham, president of the Nashville Tea Party

Most commented that they believe the proposed change to Rule 30 is too restrictive and many urged adoption of changes to Rule 30 laid out by the Tennessee Bar Association.

“TAB (Tennessee Association of Broadcasters) appreciates the Court’s desire to update Rule 30, but believes the proposed amended rule would greatly restrict public access and public information about judicial proceedings in ways this Court may not have considered when it suggested its proposed amendment,” wrote Whit Adamson, TAB’s president. “TAB strongly encourages the Court to adopt the proposed rule submitted by the Tennessee Bar Association…The Bar Association has correctly noted that the focus of Rule 30 should not be on the technology or devices used to cover courtrooms, but rather how those devices are utilized.”

Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 30 was implemented in 1996 to govern the use of cameras in the courtroom by media. In general, the rule spells out guidelines designed to avoid disruption or distraction during courtroom proceedings, and requires journalists to seek advance approval if they want to take photographs or video during courtroom proceedings.

Many other devices now are capable of taking photographs and video — such as smart phones and tablets — and the rule extends the approval process for many of these newer devices. TCOG and others, however, are concerned because the proposed rule, as written, would require advance approval to use these devices for note-taking or communication, such as by text, while in the courtroom.

They urge updating Rule 30 to accommodate new video and audio recording and broadcasting technology while also ensuring the ability of ordinary journalists to use today’s electronic tools in the courtroom. The TBA’s alternative language provides for continued regulation of photography, videography or audio broadcast, but allows other devices to be used in such a way that does not distract or interfere with proceedings.

In addition, the Knoxville Bar Association recommended removing the words “Media personnel” in Section K and replace it with “All individual in attendance.”

Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, wrote that he believe Rule 30 has worked well in the past, making courtrooms accessible to the media without sacrificing order, decorum or quality of justice.

“I am concerned, however, that the proposed changes, though well-intended, actually will result in a substantial step backward in public access to court proceedings.

“Right now, the judges in Knox County allow reporters virtually unrestricted use of digital phones and tablets as reporting tools, provided, of course, that they are not used as cameras and are handled discreetly or silently so that there is no disruption to court proceedings. This has allowed reporters to greatly broaden their delivery of courtroom news to the citizenry…On a routine day, our reporters are in and out of several courtrooms covering multiple proceedings. Their coverage plans can change abruptly based on news developments. In some cases, the proceedings being covered have not even been published on the day’s dockets as judges and attorneys juggle schedules. In each instance, the reporters use their digital devices to deliver news updates to our newsroom or to the public directly via social networks or other digital platforms.”

The effect would be to slow down reporters who would have to seek permission to bring their devices into the courtroom. “Making that harder without any offsetting gain in courtroom decorum or the judicial process, does not serve the interest of the justice system nor of the citizenry,” he wrote.

Ben Cunningham, with the Nashville Tea Party, wrote that the proposed rules were “far too restrictive on reporters.”

“Reporters should not be required to get permission from a judge for cell phones and computers. These are the modern day pen and pad and they should only be excluded when the press is excluded.”

You can submit comments online here: Submit comments on proposed rules.

Or mail written comments to:

 James Hivner, Clerk

Re: Rule 30, Docket No. ADMIN2015-00451

100 Supreme Court Building

401 7th Avenue North

Nashville, TN 37219-1407

 

 

 

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